KIEV, Ukraine – As sporadic firefights continued between Ukrainian troops and separatists, the government announced Monday that it was deploying police officers to the east and would fire those who refuse to go.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement that he was ordering in the police out of necessity and as a test of proficiency, spirit and patriotism. He said their willingness to serve in the east will help instill trust in the institution, long seen as corrupt.
Avakov said he had fired 21 police officers from the city of Chernihiv on Sunday because they refused to go, while 86 obeyed the directive.
Avakov did not indicate whether the officers would be sent to the front lines in the self-proclaimed people’s republics controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
But he said that if ordered into combat, the officers would be provided with ammunition and body armor.
Deploying police from across Ukraine to the east will buttress regular army units, which have often struggled to repel rebel advances.
Ukraine’s military has been weakened in recent years, starved of cash and training under the previous government.
In part, that was a byproduct of the now-discredited belief that the country faced no imminent military threat.
The police, who report to the Interior Ministry, could be more supportive of the government in Kiev than at least some of the police officers serving in the east.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has said that in Luhansk, for example, the police force is split on whether to cooperate with the separatists.
The reinforcements will arrive at a time when lawlessness in the eastern regions appears to be increasing. They have been beset by criminal activity, with local authorities reluctant to intervene. However, it is difficult to know whether separatist fighters are to blame for the lawlessness or whether some of it is a symptom of the general unrest.
Last week, an armored bank vehicle carrying cash was robbed at gunpoint by men in camouflage near Donetsk. There was a report Monday of 20 armed men attempting to break into a factory in Donetsk that makes radio and electronic equipment for military use. A lawyer and a newspaper editor in the Luhansk region were kidnapped Sunday.